Solar’s $60 Million Boost

Installation of solar energy systems on Long Island is poised to expand with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s announcement last week of a $60 million investment to support the solar industry’s transition to PSEG Long Island, which operates the Long Island Power Authority’s transmission and distribution system.

PSEG Long Island will join with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which administers existing solar installation programs, to locally implement the statewide NY-Sun Initiative, a public-private partnership launched in 2012 that works to develop solar energy infrastructure. Last week, state regulators approved a plan to extend the NY-Sun Initiative through 2023.

The $60 million, which will provide incentives for residential and commercial solar installations through rebates, represents a more than doubling of the NY-Sun Initiative’s proposed $28 million allocation for Long Island. Solar systems eligible for tax incentives and rebate programs will also increase from 10 to 25 kilowatts for residential installations and from 100 to 200 kilowatts for commercial structures.

Under the plan, PSEG Long Island will locally administer the Energy Research and Development Authority’s Megawatt Block program, a rebate initiative in which megawatts are allocated to regions in the state and regional targets are divided into blocks to which incentives are assigned. The program, which takes effect June 1, replaces LIPA’s Solar Pioneer and Solar Entrepreneur Program, which has distributed some $170 million in rebates for more than 8,000 solar systems installed on Long Island, according to PSEG Long Island.

Local administration of the program by PSEG Long Island is important, said Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, a nonprofit organization in East Hampton that promotes clean and sustainable energy generation and use. “It’s good news because it keeps it closer to home,” he said. “It means that we — the advocates and local installers here on Long Island — have an easier way to make our voices heard. We don’t have to go to Albany to make sure they hear us.”

Mike Bailis, vice president of SUNation Solar Systems in Oakdale, said that the governor’s announcement “provides us with some stability in the market in the short run, knowing that that program is going to be locally run and administered with a sustained amount of funding both now and in the near future.” In a larger sense, Mr. Bailis said, the $60 million investment is “something everyone within the industry has been looking for, which is some type of plan. It’s very difficult for any small business to put a five-year plan into place when you don’t even know what is going to happen next year.”

Mr. Raacke agreed, calling the NY-Sun Initiative’s proposed $28 million allocation far short of what was needed for a sustained implementation of solar energy infrastructure on Long Island. But, he added, as solar power moves toward becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuels and nuclear energy, consumers cannot expect tax incentives and rebate programs to continue indefinitely. A federal tax credit, for example, is set to expire in 2016. “The message for consumers is also that this may be it for rebates on solar, so if anyone was thinking about ‘going solar’ and is procrastinating, as is human nature, it would be a good idea to get going on it now because these rebates will not last forever,” he said.

Mr. Bailis was more optimistic, if cautiously. He predicted that when the federal credit expires and the $60 million investment for incentives is exhausted, “if we still need incentives, I would say that the powers that be will figure out where to find the money. In the eyes of the state government, the one thing that solar brings is jobs. It takes local people to install, design, service, etc. If the incentives go away and companies leave or go out of business, all those jobs are gone.”

The cost of photovoltaic systems has dropped precipitously over the last four years, Mr. Raacke said, providing further incentive to make the investment. “As we’ve seen in the past, there has been this rush on solar rebate money and before you knew it, it was exhausted,” he said. “The safe thing to do is get in on the game now.”

Also, he said, “Some people that call us ask, ‘The price came down, isn’t it going to come down further? Maybe I should wait.’ By waiting longer, they are needlessly sending more of their money to the utility company every month. If they wait another year or two, they will send thousands to the utility company when they could be keeping that in their own pockets.”